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Tech and business news from around the region.

CIO Spring hiring plans projected

Thirteen percent of chief information officers (CIOs) interviewed for the Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report plan to add full-time information technology (IT) staff in the first quarter, while 1 percent anticipate personnel reductions. The net 12 percent hiring increase compares with a net 9 percent forecast one year ago and is unchanged from the fourth quarter of 2005 when the net hiring increase reached its highest level in 14 quarters.

Some key findings from the study include:

* The Mountain states expect the strongest employment growth.

* For the second consecutive quarter, the finance, insurance and real estate sector is expected to lead the nation in hiring activity.

* Executives at the largest firms (1,000 or more employees) forecast the highest levels of IT hiring activity.

* Microsoft Windows (NT/2000/XP) administration remains the technical skill set most in demand.

When asked which technical skill sets were needed most within their IT departments, 81 percent of CIOs reported demand for Microsoft Windows (NT/2000/XP) administration expertise. Wireless network management was cited by 50 percent of respondents, followed closely by SQL Server management (46 percent).

When technology executives were asked which specialties were most in demand in their departments, 22 percent said networking. Help desk/end-user support was cited by 13 percent of CIOs while applications development received 11 percent of the response, an increase of two percentage points from its fourth-quarter ranking.

EarthLink to buy VPN provider

Atlanta-based EarthLink Inc. plans to buy New Edge Networks in a $144 million deal, expanding its business in the small and medium business market.

Vancouver, Wash.-based New Edge is a privately held, single-source national provider of private Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), secure multi-site managed data networks and dedicated access for businesses and communications carriers. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2006.

EarthLink will pay $114.3 million in cash plus 2.6 million shares of EarthLink common stock. EarthLink said it plans to keep New Edge’s 345 employees and the New Edge brand, basing the acquired company in Vancouver.

EarthLink and New Edge will package their voice, data, protection, and security tools.

Radiant completes Synchronics buy

Radiant Systems Inc. has bought Synchronics Inc. for $19.5 million in cash plus $7.5 million in shares of restricted Radiant common stock.

Memphis, Tenn.-based Synchronics provides business management and point-of-sale software for the retail market. Atlanta-based Radiant provides store technology for the hospitality, petroleum and convenience retail and entertainment industries.

Radiant recently reported its profit dropped 9 percent in the third quarter to $731,000 after a $1.5 million write-off.

CheckFree buys PhoneCharge

Atlanta-based CheckFree Corp. has bought telephone and Internet-based bill payment services company PhoneCharge Inc. for $100 million in cash.

CheckFree said the acquisition expands its electronic bill payment services.

PhoneCharge is based in Ansonia, Conn., and had $19 million in revenue in fiscal 2005.

Sprint to buy Enterprise Communications

Sprint Nextel Corp. plans to buy Columbus-based Enterprise Communications Partnership for $98 million.

Reston, Va.-based Sprint Nextel also will spend $2 million to acquire licenses for C Block wireless spectrum from an affiliate of Enterprise Communications. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2006.

Enterprise Communications provides Sprint PCS services in Alabama and Georgia and has more than 52,000 direct wireless subscribers. It employs about 80 people and had $54.3 million in revenue in fiscal 2005.

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